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Thread: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

  1. #1
    TheArcane's Avatar
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    Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    I have been trying to do some research on what I need in a computer, as a photographer. After several searches with google, I found some articles explaining things, but unfortunately most of what I'm finding is somewhat dated in that they're processing their photos with Lightroom 3, or even Lightroom 2. The primary programs I use are Lightroom 4, Paint Shop Pro X4, and Corel Painter 11, so I obviously need something that will run those smoothly. I have also noticed that my current computer is having a harder time dealing with the 16mp images that my new D7000 is producing.

    I have always been a PC user, but am willing to consider switching to Mac if the benefits can justify the cost. From my understanding, Macs handle color better, are "easier" to use (Whatever that means), deal less with viruses, and appear to last longer than a PC. I'm not sure how huge the price difference is however once you supe up a PC to the amount of RAM you need, and the Processor you need, compared to a Mac.

    I don't need a computer that will run the space shuttle, but I do want something that can handle my programs smoothly, and I seem to be having trouble figuring out what exactly those needs are. As I said before, a lot of the articles I read are dated, and say that an 8 core processor is overkill for a photographer...which means Macs new 12 core processor would be a ridiculous overkill for what I need...but since those articles are old, I'm not sure if an 8 core is still overkill.

    So really I just need some direction on either some good PC options, or good Mac options, and where to buy them for a decent price. I don't really need the portability of a laptop or a macbook, and am content to work at a desktop setup, especially if I can get better results by sacrificing portability. I had one friend suggest a Mac Mini and that he does all his music mixing with one of those and it does just fine, but another site I read said that you need a Mac Pro...and the price differences between those two alone are staggering. I'm hoping that by speaking to other photographers (You), you will have a better understanding of what my needs actually are, because you're using similar programs and camera equipment.

    Part of the reason I am also considering a new computer is that I've recently come upon $2000 to put toward my photography career, and am trying to decide if I should put it toward glass, lighting, or computer needs. Knowing that my computer is now struggling some, I know that I will need to invest in one soon.

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    I've used both a Dell laptop (Core i5 processor) and a netbook which is WAY less powerful (but I used to have a 23" monitor attached to it).
    I often have files of 500Mb and use LR2 and PSE 10 (so the softwware is noticeably different).
    Even the netbook coped fine with my personal requirements, although I usually use the laptop.
    Typical shoot is 400 - 800 images. I convert to DNG (LR2 can't cope with Sony A77 RAW files).
    PP can consist of up to 15 layers (usually only one or two).

    Fairly typical image is Tree and twilight
    I blended in several images as I only had one flash and was illuminating different parts of the tree per image.
    4 images/layers, plus various masks and/or blending modes. Stamped layer, layer for cloning. Pretty simple.
    Actual file size 380Mb.
    The Dell laptop copes easily even when running a couple of games, Skype, e-mail, couple of webpages all in the background.

    What computer/processor are you currently using? We can use that as a starting point to make suggestions.
    Colour and Mac? My understanding is that if the monitor us calibrated properly and you are using the appropriate colour space, the computer you use is irrelevant - someone educate me, I don't know.
    If I had the money, go on holiday, take some great pics with your current equipment, sell them for large amounts of money and use that to buy your fantasy kit . Or put the money towards a good lens, once you've saved up the rest.

    Graham

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    It would be useful if you could tell us a bit more about your current computer. Processor specs, amount of RAM, hard disk size, graphics card and operating system information (64 vs 32 bit) and approximate age would be useful. Iíve run into situations where people have said very much what you have, and found that they did not have enough RAM installed, and by putting in some relatively inexpensive RAM, their computer sped up remarkably. For Window 7 64bit, I would never go less than 8GB and the machine I use for photo / video editing has 16GB of RAM,

    Iíve used both Macs and PCs fairly extensively, and frankly I would have no issues going either way. These machines are tools, and both work reliably. I too prefer desktop machines, as they have a lot more processing power than laptops. Apple has a long history in the graphics arts business, and photographers and illustrators have been very loyal to the brand.

    That being said, I do have to take issue some of your list of issues: While not everyone will agree with me, at least this is my take:

    1. Macs handle color better - not true. The current crop of monitors seems to be quite good, but some of the older Cinema display line was panned by a lot of users. Get yourself a wide-gamut IPS (in-plane switching) monitor and the image quality will meet or beat the current Apple offerings. If you compare, for instance the current Apple 27Ē specs versus the Dell 2711, youíll see what I mean; they both list for the same price; but the Dell has better specs.

    2. Macs are "easier" to use (Whatever that means) Ė Being someone that uses both, Iím not quite sure what that means either. Whenever I ask, I donít get a particularly satisfactory answer. My recommendation is stick with what you know, at least you wonít have to worry about the learning curve,

    3, Macs deal less with viruses Ė that is true, but also somewhat meaningless. A year ago, there were no Mac viruses out in the wild. That all changed this year as there have been a few highly publicized viruses that are aimed at the Mac community. Now that the virus writers are attacking the platform, the fact that Windows has a strong anti-virus infrastructure in place may actually mean it is more resistant to attack.

    4. Appear to last longer than a PC Ė based on some warranty repair stats I saw a few months back for laptops, this does not appear to be correct either. Apple sat right in the middle of the pack, behind Toshiba, ASUS and Lenovo, but ahead of HP, with Dell bringing up the rear. I know that the tech support guy at the video co-op I belong to would strongly disagree with the statement that Macs last longer.

    If you are planning to stay with Paint Shop Pro or Corel Painter, the decision is easy; those products are PC only. Adobe products run on either platform. Yes, BootCamp allows one to run Windows on a Mac, but Apple makes noise from time to time about discontinuing supporting it, so who knows.

    With respect to the number of cores; four core processors are pretty standard and the Intel i7 line is multi-threaded to provide 8 virtual cores, but frankly there are very few applications that really take advantage of that level of processing power. If you are into video editing, these processors make sense as the video rendering operation is very processor intensive.

    Regardless of whether you go Mac or Windows, both types will be more than adequate for the job; but as I said at the beginning, it might be worthwhile to see if a relatively minor upgrade is all you need.

    I hope that this helps

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    TheArcane's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Here are the specs on my HP.

    Understanding What I Need In A Computer

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    I use an Acer laptop - Like Graham, it uses a i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. It's nothing fancy, but I run LR4, CS6, along with several Photoshop plugins, like NikSoft applications, and it has NO problem handling all of them at the same time.... Price $499 at Best Buy.

    EDIT - PS - I prefer the laptop, because I do quite a bit of tethered shooting, which would be impossible (obviously) with a desktop.
    Last edited by Andrew76; 24th September 2012 at 01:57 AM.

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    TheArcane's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    I'm sure if I had experience shooting tethered, I would probably really like it. I don't have any experience doing so however, so I don't know what I'm missing .

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Quote Originally Posted by TheArcane View Post
    Here are the specs on my HP.

    Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    The 6GB of RAM is a bit low. If you got up to 8GB, your problems might just go away. The machine I use has 8GB and is about the same age as yours is. It has a slightly faster processor 2.8 GHz (it's an i7 quad core and is multi-threaded).

    When I check how much memory my machine is using, it is usually running at close to 6GB, which is okay for me, because my machine has an additional 2 GB of headroom. With your machine, I suspect that you are getting to the point where the computer is using swap memorty (downloading programs to your hard drive). While this will keep the machine running, it will result in slow and "rough" operation.

    You might want to ask your local computer repair shop what it will cost to to a memory upgrade. A 2GB memory module runs for between $30 and $40 from the store I deal with; and your machine can take up to 8 GB.

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Joshua: I resently has a desktop build for me and it came in under $1500.00 CDN. i5 processor, 16 GB ram, 240GB solid state hardrive, DVD player/burner, 2 2TB hard drive (1 for all files, second as a back-up), all the operating systems run on the SS Drive. I use a Toshiba 30" LCD as a monitor. I can have put 15, and up to 23 images up to 20MB each together into a pan and it has taken less than 45 seconds to produce a final image. It use to take 3 minutes to stitch 3 together, some of my larger single images 12" x 36" are more than 5GB in size with all the layers because I open all my files from raw as smartlayers, and as such I will have two at least and up to 5 layers with smart objects in them and all other layers, so the files can become quite large. Thus the need for power, and speed I should be good for the next five years I hope.

    Cheers:

    Allan

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Joshua, just a quick side note. I have just read that many are having issues with running lightroom 4. Not everyone and the 4.1 has fixed things for some but many are still having problems. Some have said they have fixed their freezing up issue by removing several GB of files from the library. There is hopes that 4.2 will adress these issues.

    Not sure when your problems started, but if it was shortly after adding LR 4.....is everything else running ok?

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Get a PC with an i7 CPU - at least 8GB of RAM, and a solid-state hard drive cache. Going for a higher spec like the i7 CPU does cost more than an i5, but it also gives the PC a longer useful life -- so pays off in the end.

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    I built an i7 quad core 2.8GHz 6GB memory earlier this year. The only reason I went this far is that I got into some video editing where speed is king. Otherwise, for LR4, PS5, and Vertus Fluid Mask 3 I can't see a significant difference between this machine and an less powerful notebook I have. The important thing is a good monitor. I got tired of pulling out what little hair I have left with a monitor that changed color with viewing angle. It was expensive but I finally popped for an NEC PA241w. I love it.

    As for the MAC they are good machines, but technically no better than a good PC. It's reputation for being easy to use is due to their restricting the use of any software not approved by Apple. It also locks out the many free utilities we have on the PC (some of which cause crashes).

    them's my ramblings,
    frank

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    arith's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Hi; I went the AMD route because I can't afford Intel, but the 8 core is on offer and is fast enough even though it is slightly underclocked.

    With 64 bit and 8GB of 1600Mhz CAS 8 memory, a 4800MTs mobo fitted with Sata 3 old fashioned HDD and basic 2GB 48 core graphics it isn't particularly fast but fast enough and can complete a Kaspersky full scan on default settings, scanning about 300GB in 15 minutes.

    Seems to work fine with everything thrown at it and runs mostly 3 degrees centigrade above ambient and at present 18 C.

    Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    ps, make sure the mobo has the right bios or you could have problems and I seem to remember that the Sata 3 only works with an extra download offered from Windows after registration.

    This is what Stallman thinks of Apple by the wayfasttrack it to 12:13)

    Last edited by arith; 24th September 2012 at 12:47 PM.

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    I think a lot depends on the processing you are going to do. I know some one for instance that might batch process 150 images and stack and align them. The batch processing is raw conversion and various clean up passes. A main stream fast pc might take an hour or more to do that sort of thing. A super fast one is unlikely in real terms to do it all that much more quickly. 64bit against 32. Again here there may not be much of a gain. A 32 bit machine pages memory so can work on a lot at the same time. The loss when it happens is when it changes the page it's working on and that is relatively small so total time lost depends on what software is trying to do - and how it's written.

    Multi core processors and threading sound great but say several things are been done at once and all have to be completed to achieve a finished result. The longest processing time sets the total time. They will speed things up but often not as much as people might think.

    Solid state discs are great for speed but writing to new data to them wears them out. As long as they are just read they generally last a long long time. These can speed up the time it takes to load and run a program but that's about it really unless they are replaced at regular intervals - they will wear out if data is continually changed on them. Rather quickly really.

    Wide gamut monitors wont show what a typical web viewer will see when they view your photo's. If profiled to sRGB then the wide gamut is no longer available. This is an area that may change at some point. According to the web windows 7 is capable of using 48bit colour. Could be microshafts next major upgrade and will probably mean new monitors for all. Web info isn't always reliable so pass but it's an area of PC's that hasn't really changed much for a long time.

    Personally unless some one want to use it as an excuse to upgrade I would advise people to stick with what they have. The money might better be spent on lenses and cameras. When buying a new PC one step lower than the current fastest standard machine is usually the best option. The fastest one is always well over priced. The sellers aren't finding it so easy to get people to upgrade these days but the operating systems and user software gets more and more ponderous as time goes by. I run a 6700 dual core 2.66Ghz processor on a full 64bit motherboard and 64bit scsi raid 5 for my discs. Also a NAS on 1gb/sec 10 base T. Only 4gb of ram which I'm thinking of upgrading but haven't seen the need yet. Longest time I find to process anything is deconvolution type sharpening. A 12mp image might take 10mins or more using a very heavy utility. :-) Can't say that I have found the process of much use so far really but I doubt if the latest greatest system would speed that up much anyway. The monitor is a 22in Belinea and I run 64bit Linux with the KDE desktop. Linux used to run easily on even very old machines. KDE these days does need some power and most importantly a fairly powerful fast graphics card due to all of the screen effects and far more complex handling software used in that area.

    Have to forgive me. Software has always figured heavily in where I have worked. At home I bought my 1st PC about I year or so after they came out and some software was available. Have also been on the web since there was one single dial up isp in the UK and not that many more in the USA. Time was charged as per the usual phone calls.

    -

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Quote Originally Posted by TheArcane View Post
    I don't need a computer that will run the space shuttle...
    No, you don't but not for the reasons you think! Even a 20 year old PC will be more powerful than the computer on board the shuttle. Remember the shuttle was designed and built in the late 70s and first flew in 1981, before IBM's first PC became available in 1982. The days when 1 Mb of RAM was excessive.

    Ken
    PS am I showing my age here?

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    arith's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Actually I do Topaz deconvolution and a 130MB image might take 30 seconds; it picks up after 15 secs but mostly I click and it is done.

    I haven't got a raid and don't want one really; good for games I suppose and expensive.

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    I recently bought a new computer specifically to use for photography. My old computer is a PC which was not running Photoshop Elements very well (37,000 photos slows it down). I wanted portability and I did not want to use an external monitor for editing.

    I bought a Mac Book Pro Retina. The Retina screen has one major attribute found on very few notebook computers. It has an IPS screen. This means the color seen on the screen does not change with viewing angle. As a bonus the colors in general are so vibrant compared to my old Dell that the photos have taken on a different look. (Actually, on screen they now look like what I print).

    The Mac I bought has 8GB RAM and 512 SSD and about a 2.6 or 2.7 GHz i7 processor. You can select these parameters when you buy. The SSD is brilliant - basically no lag using Lightroom 4.1.

    One important thing to be aware of - the Mac Book Retina is not upgradeable. The RAM is soldered in and the battery is glued in. The SSD is somewhat upgradeable though not by the average user. If you decide on one you need to spec it out correctly the first time.

  17. #17
    TheArcane's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    How much does the graphics card affect how the computer would run while processing photos?

    I just went and "built" a computer through HP, and I thought some of you could look over what I have on there to see if it looks adequate, or if some of it would be overkill.

    Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Also, the current monitor I'm using is a HP 2311x. Would a Spyder screen calibrator work on it?
    Last edited by TheArcane; 24th September 2012 at 06:47 PM.

  18. #18
    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Quote Originally Posted by TheArcane View Post
    Also, the current monitor I'm using is a HP 2311x. Would a Spyder screen calibrator work on it?
    The specs on the computer are quite nice.

    The weakest part of your proposed system is your screen; it is a low end TN (twisted nematic) display and these screen types are not great for photography, as they don't do a good job accurately displaying colours. I would suggest that you look at a high gamut monitor using IPS (in-plane switching) type instead. Regardless of what type of monitor you use, a tool like the Sypder is a must, as the only way you will know that your colours are accurate. You need to create an icc profile for your video card / screen profile.

  19. #19

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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Quote Originally Posted by TheArcane View Post
    How much does the graphics card affect how the computer would run while processing photos?
    It doesn't really. Any modern card is fine.

  20. #20
    TheArcane's Avatar
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    Re: Understanding What I Need In A Computer

    Looks like this one from Dell would be a good deal, and fall more in my price range.

    http://www.amazon.com/Dell-UltraShar...ut+IPS+Monitor

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